LOS ANGELES — When it comes to talent acquisition, Lincoln Riley’s transfer portal efforts have generated most of the headlines since he took the gel at USC last winter. Nothing makes waves quite like adding star quarterback Caleb Williams (Oklahoma) and Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver Jordan Addison (Pitt), two of the 20 or so transfers the Trojans have added this offseason.
Riley has acknowledged that adding so many players through the transfer portal will not be his preferred route in the future, though. Ultimately, the foundation of USC’s roster will be built through traditional high school recruiting.
That’s what makes the 2023 recruiting class, Riley’s first full cycle as the Trojans’ coach, so critical. And there’s probably no weekend that will be more important for USC’s ’23 class than this one, with a bevy of high-profile blue-chip prospects set to visit.
Shortly after Riley’s hire, the Trojans added three five-star prospects, quarterback Malachi Nelson and receivers Zachariah Branch and Makai Lemon, to headline their ’23 class. Although USC is off to a solid start this recruiting cycle, it still needs to add more elite talent, particularly along the line of scrimmage, if it wants to start competing at the highest level of the sport.
With that in mind, let’s reset where the Trojans’ ’23 class stands and what storylines to watch for this weekend.
Where USC’s 2023 class stands and where its priorities remain
Nelson, Branch and Lemon are great commitments to already have in the fold. USC has added six more commitments to its ’23 class since the initial wave that included those three five-star prospects. Two of those commitments came this week when the Trojans added three-star defensive lineman Grant Buckey and offensive lineman Tobias Raymond. Entering the weekend, USC’s class ranks 12th nationally according to the 247Sports Composite.
USC is set at quarterback with Nelson already committed for this class. The Trojans have met their goal of adding two high school running backs in 2023 with four-stars Quinten Joyner and A’Marion Peterson. They are solid at receiver with Lemon and Branch, so that’s not necessarily the biggest need, but they’re still looking to add more to that group.
So where could this class stand to grow? USC’s biggest needs are along the offensive and defensive lines. They have struggled adding blue-chip talent in the trenches going on three or four recruiting cycles now, and turning that around will be one of the most important parts of Riley’s rebuild.
The Trojans have several veterans at tight end, so adding an elite prospect there could improve the long-term outlook of that position group. USC also has no 2023 linebacker commits at the moment so that is also a need. Highly touted linebacker prospect Tackett Curtis, a top-100 player nationally, just visited last weekend.
The Trojans have recruited the secondary heavily the past two years after not signing a single defensive back in the 2020 cycle, and they’ve added quite a few defensive backs through the portal in that span. They have two commitments from defensive backs already for 2023, but there are some targets still on the board, like four-stars Micah Tease and Christian Gray and three-star Maliki Crawford.
USC’s list of official visitors this weekend is loaded with four- and five-star talent at positions of major need. As noted above, the line of scrimage is a priority. Riley and his staff have the opportunity to make a strong impression with two significant five-star prospects this weekend: offensive lineman Francis Mauigoa, who attends IMG Academy in Florida, and St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) defensive lineman Matyo Uiagalelei. Both players have been focal points of USC’s recruiting efforts since the new staff took over late last year. Four-star offensive lineman Lucas Simmons, a Florida native, is slated to be on campus this weekend as well.
The Trojans are pursuing two elite tight ends in this class: five-star Duce Robinson, the nation’s top-rated tight end, and Walker Lyons, a four-star in-state prospect who is the No. 3 TE in the class. Both will visit this weekend. If Robinson or Lyons were to sign with USC, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of them earn early playing time.
Five-star linebacker Anthony Hill, the No. 2 overall player in Texas, is also scheduled to visit this weekend.
The committed prospects
Several of USC’s already committed prospects will be on campus this weekend as well, headlined by Nelson, Branch and Lemon. As a quarterback and the No. 2 overall player in the nation, Nelson is the centerpiece of the class. He also has to take on the unofficial role of lead recruiter among the Trojans’ current targets. He’ll likely be making his pitch to all the blue-chip prospects on hand.
Branch, whose brother Zion signed with the Trojans in December, has been an active recruiter for USC as well. He has been firmly committed to the Trojans for about six months now, but reports surfaced this week that he’ll take a visit to Texas A&M this month. USC knows it needs to recruit Branch aggressively through signing day, but there don’t appear to be any signs of worry or panic on that end yet.
On the flip side, three-star offensive line target Amos Talalele is supposed to visit USC this weekend as well. Talalele committed to Cal a few weeks ago, and the Trojans will attempt to get him to reconsider while he’s in Los Angeles.
• The offensive line is clearly a point of emphasis this weekend. Mauigoa, Simmons and Talalele are scheduled to be joined by three-star prospects Micah Banuelos and Alani Toa as well.
• Salute to Troy, a donor event/meet-and-greet typically held in August, is also this weekend adding to a loaded schedule.
• It’s been an eventful week for USC’s recruiting staff as well. Spencer Harris, the program’s director of player personnel who has been with the program since 2019, will head up USC’s new NIL initiative BLVD LLC for Stay Doubted. Another personnel staffer, Megan Mueller, will also leave USC’s recruiting department to work with BLVD.
(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)